Wine Ink: Arcanum creates Bordeaux blends in Tuscany
December 24, 2016
Under the influence
2010 Strada Al Sasso Chianti Classico Riserva: Call me a traditionalist, but during my visit to taste at Tenuta di Arceno, I was most beguiled by the sangiovese wines that are native to the region. And none intrigued me more than this rich, flavorful, food-friendly, structured, beautifully made wine. Cronin told me it made itself, and I believe him. It was nature all the way. Selected from a single block in a single vineyard year in and year out, the name of this wine translates to “street of stones,” an homage to Jess Stonestreet Jackson.
"Well I guess Jess had a pretty big thumb," said winemaker Lawrence Cronin when I expressed my amazement at the curved rows of vines that seemed to wrap and embrace the tasting room at the Tenuta di Arceno estate in Tuscany.
He was, of course, referring to the remarkable thumbprint left on the landscape by the late wine entrepreneur Jess Stonestreet Jackson, who, in his final years, nurtured this historic property a few kilometers from Sienna, just below the tiny village of San Gusmè.
When Jess first saw the 2,500-acre property in the early 1990s, he instructed that the new vines should be planted in undulating curves, rather than simple rows. The result is a visual tableau that speaks to the sensuality of both the terroir and the wines that are produced under the Tenuta di Arceno and Arcanum labels.
The whimsical curved rows have become a signature of the winery and today grace the label of the Tenuta Di Arceno wines. It is an example of how Jackson, one of the most significant figures in the modern history of wine (Kendall-Jackson and Jackson Family Wines), had his finger firmly on the pulse of how to make, market and share fine wines from around the globe.
While Castelnuovo Berardenga, the commune where the Tenuta di Arceno vineyards are located, is home to some of the finest sangiovese vines in Chianti Classico, Jackson also thought the hills and soils would be ideal for cradling the "International," or Bordeaux, varietals that both he and Pierre Seillan (his Bordeaux winemaker who is perhaps best known in America for his Sonoma-grown Vérité blends) were so passionate about.
So with customary audacity, the pair planted cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot on these Tuscan hillsides.
"When Jess first tasted the cab franc grown here, he said 'that's World Series!'" Cronin remembered, and Arcanum was born.
Today, the Italian outpost of Jackson Family Wines makes three Bordeaux-style wines under the Arcanum brand. Earlier this month, Wine Spectator named the 2012 Arcanum Toscana "Il Fauno" as one of its top 100 wines of the year, ranking it at No. 19 on the prestigious list.
Arcanum, in the lexicon of alchemists, can be defined as "elixir," and these wines meet that definition precisely. The 2012 "Il Fauno" is a blend led by 48 percent merlot with near equal weights of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, making a balanced wine that is complex and elegant, and as good a $30 wine as you'll find on the planet.
The Spectator tout will no doubt make it harder to track down, but seek out the "Il Fauno" for a wine that can take you on a trip to Tuscany and Bordeaux in a single glass.
While bold in style, there was a softness on the palette and a finesse to the "Il Fauno." Cronin said laughingly of his boss, the wine master Seillan, "Pierre is not a delicate guy," noting with a grin that the rugby-loving winemaker can be a bit rough around the edges. "But he has the ability to make delicate wines."
Perhaps this wine reflects that more nuanced side of both men.
Valadorna, the second wine, is also a right bank-style blend dominated by merlot sourced from some the cooler blocks of the Tenuta Di Arceno estate, which can be stiflingly warm in the summer months.
These wines are dark in the glass and concentrated on the palate. They are also earthy, with a little chew to the tannins, not unlike Napa Valley merlot, and they should prove age-worthy.
But the gem of the collection, the flagship, or as the Jackson family likes to say, "the pinnacle of the estate's offerings," is the wine dubbed as Arcanum. This is a wine that is led by the cabernet franc that Jess Jackson so revered. While cabernet franc is sometimes knocked as being a bit "green," or herbal, this blend is enhanced by that characteristic.
"Jess was all about balance," Cronin said. "A wine can be fruity, have minerality or be herbal. But if it has all three components in balance, it can be an '11' on a 10 scale."
The three wines of the Arcanum collection represent a bold step by an American-based wine venture to marry the soils, grapes and knowhow of diverse people and regions to make wines unlike any that have ever existed before. It is only in this day and age that we have the resources and technology to bring global elements together to produce wines like these.
Ancient lands and new ideas. It's a recipe for a fine elixir.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.